OurHealth: Citizen journalism tackling South Africa’s health care issues
“Although we have many good national health policies, those entrusted to implement these at provincial and local government levels often fail to deliver” —Kerry Cullinan, Managing Editor of Health-e
citizen journalists covering 14 health districts
stories produced for print, online and radio
May 2014 End date
The South African government’s new National Health Insurance scheme aims to make the health system accessible and equitable for all citizens.
However, despite public commitments to increased efficiency and accountability, long standing issues with delivering public services at the local level threatens the implementation of the scheme. Action is required to ensure that the scheme does not continue the trend of national policies going unrealised for South Africa's rural communities and the urban poor.
Health-e believes that where formal accountability, such as democratic elections, fail to deliver, collective action by, or on behalf of the poor, can make policy-makers and service providers more responsive and accountable.
With funding from Making All Voices Count, Health-e News has started Our Health, a project that trains and supports citizens to report on local health services to make sure that ordinary people get the health services the government has promised.
Our reporting on health service delivery contributes to the development of a culture of social accountability in South Africa. - Sibongile Nkosi, Health-e
Our Health offers a platform for ordinary people to share their experiences of public health services and creates a distribution network for these stories through the media. This, in turn, provides a basis for advocacy on a range of local issues, from a lack of access to clean water to the closure of a community health centre providing advice for HIV-positive mothers.
Health-e News is South Africa’s award-winning dedicated health news service that provides health news to mainstream television stations, newspapers, magazines and websites in South Africa.
Citizen Journalists are not professional journalists. There needs to be a balance between the quantity of stories you can get from them, and the quality you can accept. If you are staking your reputation on the stories gathered by citizen journalists, there needs to be an investment of time and resources into training and fact-checking, and genuine performance management.
We can’t carry people if they keep making the same mistakes over and over. We don’t expect citizens to be a brilliant journalist straight away, but we have to see progress. - Kerry Cullinan, Health-e
Stop being afraid of the phrase 'This isn't working'. You have the confidence to constantly monitor what's working, and change things that aren't delivering the results you want. When their first strategy wasn't working, Health-e moved from trying to get clinic staff to report drug stockouts via Mixit, to deploying citizen monitors using a simple, tablet-based app. This was a big change in a project that only lasted a year and a half but, without it, the project would have stalled.
When thinking about financial sustainability, be aware of your Unique Selling Point. The Health-e team have found that national media were interested in using their stories because they delivered citizen voices, which national media houses found expensive to go out and get. Projects looking for sustainability need to seriously think how their 'product' answer the needs of potential funders, commercial or otherwise.